Emo News Reporting: A New American Trend

Anderson Cooper

Tara Taghizadeh of PopMatters takes a look at the prevalence of subjective reporting in American television news coverage:  

… In an era when network news audiences are dwindling and viewers are instead opting to receive their news from the Internet, is it only a matter of time before anchors are extinct? Or is it that anchors will have to follow in the footsteps of [Anderson] Cooper and provide a more intimate, "touchy-feely" version of the news; that is, news which is deemed more subjective, rather than objective? The networks are also facing considerable challenges from cable news (especially, the right-leaning Fox network) and the Internet. Network news gained momentum with 9/11, but since then, more and more viewers are eager to turn to cable news shows (such as Fox and MSNBC and blogs) for what appears to be personal, biased commentary (hence the popularity of the likes of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity), and for more immediate, breaking stories which the Internet offers readily.

It has long been said that the evening news has always been about the personality of the anchor rather than about the news itself (case in point: the legendary Walter Cronkite, who was known as the "most trusted man in America"), and therefore the current lineup of anchors is merely a popularity contest. What else can possibly explain CBS' decision to hire away the bubbly, cheerful [Katie] Couric — who seems to be a perfect fit for the light fare of morning TV — to lead its serious evening newscast? Can this be explained in any way other than the "Anderson Cooper effect"? That is; that star power is far more important than the actual content of the news itself? As Tim Goodman writes in the San Francisco Chronicle in an article titled "Sure, Cooper is cute and young, but get a grip CNN" (12 October 2005):

The Anderson Cooper cult of personality must end. That may be difficult, given that he's the Poster Boy Anchor and Future of Broadcast Journalism, so perhaps merely containing him would be a start.

In another article in TomPaine.com ("Must-Cry TV", 20 September, 2005), which explains Cooper's outburst at a local politician regarding the aftermath of Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans and other Gulf areas, Richard Bradley quotes CNN boss Jonathan Klein as saying: "I think other news executives are drooling over [Cooper.] He brings a new dimension to the job, which is a concept of an anchor as a kind of missionary. It's a new model for thinking about what the anchorperson ought to be." Bradley states: "Forgive me for not salivating, but is crying on television… really what a television news anchor 'ought to be'? I don't want my newscasters to be missionaries."

Surprisingly, when Aaron Brown was fired from his show on CNN, I thought that it was because his approach to reporting the news was too "weepy".  But now that Anderson Cooper has been awarded his time slot (actually, Anderson has a two hour show, full of heartwrenching stories, where viewers get to follow him around the globe from one tear-jerking story to the next), Aaron Brown's heavy sighs and head shakes pale in comparison to Anderson Cooper's overwrought reporting of every tragedy that he can fly on a plane to get to.

While editorials and other subjective coverage of news stories and other topics that effect and change society are needed, it does seem that every type of news broadcast has some sort of obvious slant to it.  Even local newscasters will add their own personal quips to the copy that they read from the teleprompter.

To get dry, objective (at least outwardly) news coverage, one has to turn to the international news broadcasts.  Free of frills and celebrity journalists, the highlight is the news itself, which is actually refreshing, after trying to wade through the three major networks, or CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, who tend to engage in the overuse of pundits.  Often, you can tune in to see a political pundit substituting for the journalist on a regular show.

Objectivity and balance have long served as the staples of American journalism, but no longer. The European press has always enjoyed an "adversarial" style of reporting, but American news institutions are now following the manner of Fox News Channel, and injecting "opinion reporting" whenever possible – and that opinion is increasingly conservative. (Even during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, anchors and journalists initially — for a brief moment — turned their wrath to the federal government for its lack of immediate assistance in the Gulf region. However, within a matter of days, they pointed the blame at the local Democrats in power for the chaos that ensued.)

According to the British Journalism Review, a large number of Americans are now referring to British news sources, such as the Guardian or the BBC which the BJR blames on "dissatisfaction on the part of the American public with the press in the United States". ("For many, British is better" 2004) Generally, international perspective is underrepresented in US news. In these times, there should be ample room for discussions in the media as to why the US is so unpopular in the Middle East, and the historical factors that led to a terrorist organization such as Al Qaeda to attack innocent Americans should be discussed openly to the public. For an anchor (or any other journalist) to merely present a one-sided "opinion" on a topic – any topic – detracts from the integrity of the news organization. This eventually will lead to following the party line, and journalists whose opinions differ from the party line will be crowded out. Hence, objectivity and non-judgmental reporting are key for any news organization wishing to maintain its integrity and a solid reputation.

The rest of the article can be found here:

"Global Graffiti: The Anchor Wars"  [PopMatters]


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